COLUMN: Graduation marred by murder!

Published 6:20 pm Tuesday, June 20, 2023

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High school graduations are joyous events. Graduating seniors are dressed in that strange looking academic four cornered cap with a tassel hanging in the front and that weird-looking gown, both in school colors.  Some students wear additional capes, medallions, and cords depicting special academic accomplishments.  There are smiles all around as graduates, family members, and friends celebrate one of the first symbols of kids becoming adults and entering the “real world.”

That celebration for Richmond’s Huguenot High School ended in tragedy June 6 as an 18-year-old graduate was shot and killed outside just twenty minutes after receiving his diploma.  Also shot and killed was that student’s 36-year-old stepfather.  Five other attendees were shot, one 31-year-old sustained a life-threatening wound but is expected to recover. Ages of the other victims are 14, 32, 55, and 58.

A Richmond school board member and friend of mine reported the scene as graduates, teachers, family, and friends fled the area.  A 9-year-old girl was hit by a car as she and others ran across the street.  People fell and others stepped over them, shoes were everywhere, and there was a lot of crying and yelling.

Since the graduation ceremony was held at the Altria Theater near the VCU campus in west Richmond, that campus was placed on lockdown. Huguenot’s graduation was scheduled from 4-6 PM and Thomas Jefferson High School Graduation was scheduled for 6-8 PM; that latter graduation was postponed.

Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said that “this is supposed to be a joyous day when our kids walk the stage and get their diploma, which is what they all did at Huguenot today. They walked out the doors into their families’ and friends’ arms, taking pictures, and then tragedy struck.”

The alleged shooter is 19-year-old and believed to be an acquaintance of the 18-year-old victim.  He has been arrested and remains in police custody.

Richmond Schools have dealt this year with several shootings near school property.  George Wythe High School Principal Kevin Olds stated that “what’s really happening here isn’t starting in the schools.  It’s starting in the streets and spilling over into the schools.”

In some ways, human beings are like laptop computers. Both come with basic operating systems for normal and necessary daily functions.  Then we load programs into both.  For the laptop, those added programs are applications (apps) that the user wants to perform specialized functions.  For the human beings, those loadings come from a multitude of sources – family, schools, colleges, television, churches, social media, gangs, peers, just to name a few. 

In the case of the Richmond shooter, some of the systems loaded into his mind told him it was acceptable to take the life of an acquaintance just 20 minutes after receiving his diploma.  The issue is not the gun; that is an inanimate object incapable of thinking and moving on its own.  The real issue is in the mind of the shooter where he determines what is proper and what is not.

Robert N. “Bob” Holt, a Franklin native, is a retired professor of business management and real estate at Southwestern Community College in Sylva, North Carolina. He holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral studies degrees from Virginia Tech and was a member of the university’s Corps of Cadets. His email address is